It is unsurprising that investigations in the wake of the tanker explosion that has now killed 214 people — with more deaths likely to follow — reveals a culture of non-compliance with basic engineering and safety standards. The roads of Pakistan are literally home to tens of thousands of tankers large and small that are deathtraps and according to the Oil and the Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) as many as 85 per cent of all tanker vehicles transporting oil products are not compliant with prescribed standards. Further, Ogra is to ask the Oil Marketing Company (OMC) to pay Rs10 million in fines and compensation to the families affected by the Ahmedpur East conflagration. In addition to the lives lost 75 motorbikes and three cars were incinerated.
It emerges that the ill-fated tanker did not meet the safety standards of the company that owned and operated it, never mind the Ogra 2009 technical standards for road transport vehicles. The reaction of the transport industry to suggestions that sanctions may be quickly imposed is to throw up its collective hands and demand at least two years to bring vehicles into compliance. It appears that Ogra wants to take a hard-line stance, being now acutely aware of the dangers plying our roads — which rather begs the question as to what was Ogra doing prior to this accident that allowed such a situation to develop and persist for years at a time? With the oil industry going into defensive siege mode and threatening a dry-up of some oil products in the event of a crackdown by the regulatory body, there is going to be a significant threat on the roads for years to come. There is at least the possibility of another accident on the scale of that outside Ahmedpur East, and smaller incidents are by no means uncommon. And where does the blame lie? Everywhere, nobody emerges with a shred of credibility.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2017.